GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The dual excitement of Florida’s gleaming newly-renovated arena and its strong play on the court has a sell-out crowd on tap for the Gators’ clash with Tennessee on Saturday.
No. 24 Florida (11-3, 2-0 SEC) is riding a four-game winning streak and looking to further assert itself within the conference’s top tier while Tennessee (8-6, 1-1) has taken some painfully close losses while competing in most of its games.
The showdown inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center is the teams’ lone meeting of the season.
“As of right now, we’re playing a lot better than we were last year. Everybody wants to see us be a good team and I think with us playing the way we’ve been playing that gives the fans something to want to see,” forward Justin Leon said of the announced sell-out.
So far, the Gators are 2-0 in their new home gym, including a 70-63 win over Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
“I think the renovation really helps with our fanbase, with excitement and pride and deservingly so,” coach Mike White said. “This has been a long time coming, of course. I think it obviously has a lot to do with why we’re sold out tomorrow — the arena.”
Guard KeVaughn Allen leads Florida in scoring at 14.1 points per game, forward Devin Robinson is averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and guard Canyon Barry is chipping in 11.6 points per game off the bench.
Center John Egbunu (8.5 PPG/7.8 RPG, meanwhile, continues to work himself back from a hamstring injury that cost him two games and has limited him in the last two.
“Pleased with his attitude, pleased with the minutes he’s given us. I think that he’s going to continue to fight to earn more and more minutes,” White said. “I asked him today and he feels like he’s at or near 100 percent. So he’s been good. He’s been pretty consistent in practice recently.”
What time is tip-off?
The game start at 5:15 p.m. ET Saturday.
What TV channel is showing the Florida-Tennessee game?
The game will be televised on ESPN2. It can be streamed online via WatchESPN.
Who is calling the Florida-Tennessee basketball game?
Tom Hart is calling the play-by-play and Dick Vitale will be the analyst.
Looking at Tennessee
The Vols have proven to be a tough matchup despite a daunting early schedule, but they’ve come up just short a number of times already.
Among their losses were an overtime defeat to Oregon, which is now ranked No. 15, a 2-point loss at No. 14 North Carolina and a 4-point loss Tuesday at Arkansas. They also lost to No. 5 Gonzaga, No. 13 Wisconsin and Chattanooga.
They are led by 6-foot-5 senior guard Robert Hubbs III, who averages 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, 6-foot-5, 234-pound freshman forward Grant Williams (10.8/5.9) and 6-foot-1 junior guard Detrick Mostella (10.6/4.1).
“Really physical, hard-playing, competitive team. Better than their record indicates. And that’s not coach-speak, if you guys go look at their season box score, their schedule and their outcomes,” White said. “They’ve played really, really good teams very competitively. They could have beat Oregon, could have beat North Carolina. Not surprising with a Rick Barnes-coached team. They’ll be very prepared. I like their speed, their depth. They play 11 guys double-figure minutes.
“Dangerous offensively, despite being so-called undersized. I’m not sure Grant Williams is 6-5. There’s no way he’s 6-5, with that production he’s given. He’s been amazing as a freshman, and Robert Hubbs is one of the most under-appreciated guys in our league, in my opinion. I think they’re very good.”
Like Florida under White, Tennessee is in its second season under Barnes, the longtime former Texas coach. The Vols went 15-19 in his first season and returned just one starter from that team.
Tennessee did get a lopsided 83-69 win against the Gators last year in Knoxville, Tenn., though.
“We have to match their physicality,” White said. “I thought they punched us in the mouth at the tip and punched us in the mouth again and punched us four or five times before we even responded. I don’t know why it caught us off guard last year. It shouldn’t have. They were the tougher team. They were more prepared for us in that game. Just going into this one, we’ve got to understand, we’ve already had communication with our guys that this Tennessee team, despite what people like to say about them being undersized, they’re as good offensively and defensively in the paint as most teams in our league and a lot of teams nationally.”